Dear Fellow Graduates:
When first we stood with our classmates on the Plain and swore our oath, implicit in the words was the concept of Duty. All of us realized that inherent in our Duty was the realization that we might be called upon to give our lives in defense of our country. We were prepared to do so. The thought that we might be able to serve after our deaths never crossed our minds.
That opportunity, to continue to serve, is here. Thousands of fellow Americans await the precious gift of a life-saving organ or tissue transplant. Unfortunately, each day eleven of our friends, family and neighbors die waiting for a donation that does not come in time.
You can serve and save lives by pledging to donate your organs and tissue upon your death and telling your family of your decision. You are never too old to be a potential organ donor. The advances in pharmacology and surgery make it possible for you to save seven lives and help countless others.
We are aware of the value of kidney and heart transplants. But one comes to mind that you may not have considered - the liver. There is no artificial liver or liver dialysis equivalent. The liver is unique in that its performance of some 500 functions has not been duplicated. If it fails, and there is no donor organ available, it is fatal.
Because of who we are, where we served, and how we served, older active duty military members and particularly veterans, suffer the ravages of Hepatitis C in very disproportional high numbers. For example, initial data indicates that 20% of veterans being treated at VA Centers carry the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Over 50 per cent of VA liver transplants are caused by Hepatitis C. You can be infected with this liver disease in seemingly benign ways, totally unrelated to such "risky" behavior as the sharing of needles by IV drug users.
Hepatitis C is most usually transmitted by direct exposure to infected blood: transfusions before the virus was identified in 1991; vaccination with inadequately sterilized needles and syringes in the days before the introduction of disposable needles; a wounded comrade's blood entering an open wound or cut in your body; extensive surgical procedures; tattoos; unprotected sexual relations with multiple partners; commercial razors which were not sterilized etc. For those of you who served as advisors in Vietnam or in similar capacities in other countries, think back to the village barbers using straight razors to help cut our hair. In approximately 20% of the cases, the cause of the disease is unknown. In many of these cases, infected persons probably lived in developing countries. The Hepatitis virus quietly and insidiously kills the liver over time, often decades after it was initially contracted. Any time blood flows, Hepatitis C is a threat.
The two of us are among the over 5 million Americans, who are battling Hepatitis C. Someone you know has Hepatitis C and doesn't know it. One of us was given the gift of life by a donor family. The other is shooting the last pharmacological arrow in his quiver to defeat the disease. If this arrow doesn't stop the disease, he too may join the many who may wait for years, in a long line, for a liver transplant. Twelve to fifteen thousand people are waiting for livers at any one time. And as more and more people are discovered to have the disease, this number will increase.
We urge you to tell your family that in the event of your death, you want to donate your organs so that others may live. And, we urge you to visit the West Point Organ Donor site at http//west-point.org/organdonor/ to pledge your participation. After the initial response from West Pointers, we plan to challenge the other service academies to do the same. After all, it's a neat trick to beat Air Force and Navy after you've gone. If you are awaiting any type of transplant, and listed on the National wait list, please also let us know.
Donation conforms to our ideals - so that others may live.
We urge you to take the concept of Duty to its apogee.
"Still Driving On!"